Singing has been a massive part of my world for as far back as I can remember.  My gran watching The 3 Tenors video when I was small and my dad listening to Queen full blast were the first glimpses I got of how powerful music could be.  The kind of release and joy you could get from completely engrossing yourself in the amazing power of music.  I remember being about 10 and my dad buying me a mic to plug into my stereo. I would singing for hours in my bedroom to anything and everything. I’ve always had quite a broad taste in music…….How they managed to hear the TV downstairs is beyond me, but they never came up or told me to stop.

Music has a way of grabbing my emotions and allowing them to bloom right from within my heart.  It can bring the broadest smile and most raw of tears……like a therapy.  If you ask Mr H he will tell you that he has always gauged my mood by how much I sing.

I definitely wouldn’t say I’m the best but I don’t think I have to be. For me it’s about the feeling I get from it, it’s about what singing gives to me.  Over the years singing was very much a background thing, you know, singing along with the radio, that kind of thing, I’d always wished I had done more with it.  It’s funny how things have a way of working out, paths colliding and all that.  In 2005 we moved house and a whole new network of friends came into my world.  Over time I got to know Gill Lisk and she happened to mention to me that she was spending her Christmas singing in a choir…..OMGoodness…..Why had I never thought about a choir?  The idea of singing at Christmas (the most fabulous time of the year) filled me with excitement.  As we got talking she suggested I come along and see what I thought………

It’s so hard to put into words what I was feeling on that first night.  I was beyond nervous……Singing in a room with other people was something I hadn’t done since I was in the school choir and now I was a wife and full time mother. This was way out of my comfort zone.  What if I was rubbish? What if the choir boss man made me sing something to prove my ability? What if I stood out like a sore thumb?  I shouldn’t have worried.  It was simply amazing, over 300 singers all gathered together, all with the same love as mine, all getting the same buzz.22-3

This felt like home. It felt like I’d been waiting to discover this my whole life.  This was something in my world that was just for me.  I wasn’t a wife and I wasn’t a mother, I was me Helen Holmes, and I loved it.  It’s hard to describe the feelings I get when I sing.  I have had to learn over the years ways to improve my breathing and reach for the high notes.  But as soon as I start, my body is filled with happiness, I can feel my heart growing, my soul getting restored from whatever the world has thrown at me that day or week. There are words in the songs that can bring me tears and I wonder how I’m ever going to be able to sing them to an audience….but I do every time, with passion and pride.  Singing can get to parts of me nothing else can, like a medicine. It fixes me without me knowing. The work is going on within me.  And then I look to my left and right and see my choir buddies and I can see in their eyes….they feel it too.12376593_10203990532682105_3793265908645222303_n

The choir is called Inspiration and in the first term with choir,  I was given the opportunity to go to Paris…….So 300ish of us set out on a tour. We sang in a Cathedral, in Disneyland and on a boat…….and there’s a connection, a feeling that we all share when we sing certain songs. The tears come and the memories flood in.  I’ve been in the choir now for 5 years and it’s hard work. We have to learn a lot of music by heart.  But the joy and the excitement are there at the start of every term.

At the end of every term we do a concert to a paying audience at The Sage in Gateshead which is just my most favourite place so I feel doubly lucky.  I do singing for me but I’m not going to lie, standing in Hall 1 hearing a full audience cheering us as we finish another amazing performance is a feeling I wouldn’t swap for the world.  Singing has brought things into my life that I just don’t think I could have found anywhere else.  I have met people I never would have known and I have visited places I wouldn’t have been to.  It’s like being part a huge family……we all know how great singing is, and we want to tell everyone about it.

Took this picture at a Vintage Fair we went to last week.  We had the most amazing day trying on vintage clothes all with hidden stories.  Then of course indulged in tea and cake.



great north runIt hasn’t always been that way. Well, yes, to be honest, it started off that way. Just over two years ago, I started training for the Great North Run, having never ran before. Running alone. And hating every minute of it. I don’t think I ever got to enjoy it in those first months. But it didn’t matter if I loved it or hated it at that time. That wasn’t the point. I was on a mission. To run the Great North Run – all 13.1 miles of it – without stopping. I was determined. More determined than I have ever been about anything in my life. And I did it! It was one of the greatest achievements of my whole life.

I had fully expected to stop running after the Great North Run. I wasn’t planning to run ever again. I had done what I set out to do. But somehow I wasn’t ready to pack away the running shoes just yet. I wanted to share the joy (!), so I started a running group for reluctant runners. If I could do it, anyone could. I firmly believed that and that belief overflowed and rubbed off on some of my friends. Just a few of us on a Friday morning at first, then a few more…until now there can be up to ten of us running along the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside on a Sunday evening. Running became more of a pleasure. I stopped dreading it. I found myself actually enjoying the process of running.

Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t. I found myself hating running. Hating it with a newfound passion. I was left running alone – a few out in front, a few trailing behind, and I had zero motivation. I dug deep and found nothing but resentment and negativity. I wanted to give up right there and then and never run again.

And these are the reasons I hate running at the moment:-

  • park runThat first mile. Oh my word, that first mile never gets any easier. I’m one of those runners that really struggles in the first mile. Struggles to breathe. Struggles to keep moving forward. Struggles to keep moving at all. Others are chatting away and I cannot utter a word. I feel pathetic. Humiliated. The negative voices in my head are screaming at me to turn round and give up and go back to the car. It takes all my willpower to keep going and believe it will not feel that way for the whole run. And it really is every single time. That makes me mad. It should get easier. It shouldn’t be that way. I get so angry and frustrated.
  • It’s hard. Running is hard. Well, it is for me. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes a lot of mental effort just to turn up. That hill in the Park Run is unbearably hard. Physically and mentally. The head games are sometimes harder than the physical exertion. It’s a pretty much constant battle against that voice telling me to stop and walk.
  • I’m no good at it. It’s true. I’m not. And I never will be. I’m pretty rubbish at running. My husband can walk with the dogs as fast as I can run. I blame my body shape. I have short legs. I’m carrying a lot of weight. People who’ve been running a lot less time than me take to it so much better. They’re faster than me. They cover more distance. They don’t look like they’re about to die at the end.
  • I’m not getting any better. That’s what it feels like anyway. I’m not into timing myself to be honest, but the Park Run stats don’t lie. I’m not driven by shaving minutes off my time, but you do have to wonder what the point is if I’m not improving at all…
  • The others don’t need me any more. Yes, I think if I’m honest, I was spurred on for a bit by feeling needed. I was the leader. I did the organising. I did the motivating. But my reluctant runners are all grown up now. They’re not reluctant any more. They organise to go running together at other times. Without me. They are more fired up and motivated than I am. They are leaving me standing. They are putting me to shame.

‘So give up’ Helen H said to me the other day. ‘If you hate it that much, don’t do it. Why spend all that time and energy doing something you don’t enjoy? Find something else you love more.’

She’s right, of course. Life’s too short to be doing something that makes you miserable, I get that. But I’m not going to stop. And these are the reasons why:-

  • that buzz. There’s nothing quite like it, is there? As soon as I finish my run, it crashes over me like a wave. That exhilaration. That inner glow. Nothing else does it for me like running does.
  • that confidence. If I can keep running, I can do anything. I have gained a confidence in my body’s potential, but not just my body…that confidence has spilled over into my whole life. For a whole year after the Great North Run, I was riding high. I could do anything. I achieved so much in my work and tried new things that I don’t believe I would have had the confidence to try before I started running. I love how running makes me feel about myself.
  • runnersthat example. I love that I have inspired other people to start running. I want them to experience the difference running can make for themselves. They already are. The change in some of my friends is amazing. I love that we have done this. That we are still doing this. That this year, some of them will be doing the Great North Run for the first time and I want to be there, running with them and experiencing it with them.
  • that change. I am a different person to who I was a couple of years ago. I seem to have shaken off the depression that plagued me for so many years. I’m healthier and happier than I have ever been. My body confidence has rocketed and I feel so much fitter and more active – younger even – than I have ever felt before. I feel ready to take on the world and live life to the full. I don’t know how much running has had to do with that change, but I do believe it has played a significant part. I don’t want to ever go back to how I was before.
  • I’m no quitter. I never walk away from a challenge. I believe in pushing myself. I’m not sure I could look myself in the mirror in the same way if I gave up. I don’t know how I’d live with that ‘What if…?’

So actually, I’m not going to stop. In fact, to be honest, I’m terrified of getting an injury that would stop me from running. I don’t know what my life would look like without running and I don’t want to find out.

I don’t have to like it. In fact, sometimes I’ll hate it. But running is here to stay.

I heard this on a podcast recently. I’d never heard it before. Never considered that there was an optimum number of breaths a minute. And that that number may be as low as six.

I’ve only ever really thought about breathing when I’m struggling for breath running up a hill or counting my breath on a yoga mat. The rest of the time I simply breathe.

I was prescribed medication a few years ago to slow my heart rate. Beta blockers. I was suffering from physical symptoms of anxiety and slowing my heart rate slowed my breathing and alleviated some of these physical symptoms. I never thought about actually training myself to slow my breathing myself.

breathing and dandelionsProper breathing is as important for the mind as for the body, it seems. That’s why we tell people to focus on their breathing before an interview or a performance. Breathing slowly calms the nerves.


Stop for a minute and count how many breaths you take in sixty seconds. The average is twelve to eighteen. You’re aiming at six. Focus on the flow of breath all the way down into your body and out again. Try counting the length of each breath. To take six breaths a minute, each breath needs to be ten seconds long. That means inhaling for five seconds and exhaling for five seconds (or thereabouts – often, people find it easier to establish a breathing pattern where the exhalation is slightly longer than the inhalation…so breathing in for four and out for six might work better for you). It seems more manageable when broken down like that, doesn’t it?

Some of you may be asking why. Why bother? Why not just breathe?

Well, try it and you may answer the question for yourself. Slowing your breathing can relax you physically and mentally. Pretty much instantly. And it is proven to slow down the heart rate, lower blood pressure, raise immunity, alleviate depression and stress. Although that will obviously take a little longer to improve.

Of course, physical exertion or a sudden shock will make us breathe much faster. It’s how quickly we can get back to a slower rate of breathing that counts.

So at any point of the day, have a go. Anyone can do this. You can do it anywhere. Standing in a queue. Waiting at traffic lights. In the shower. Waiting for the kettle to boil. When you lie down in bed at night.

Slow your breathing. And see the difference.






Tattoos are like Marmite. You either love them or hate them. They divide opinion. Everyone has a view. You’ll rarely meet someone who’s indifferent to them.


The pain scares me.

The adrenaline excites me.

I could never decide what design to have and where on my body to have it.

I love working out what design to have next.

I hate the idea of people staring at me in the street.

I love the idea of being a bit different.


Art that goes everywhere with you

A tattoo is a disfigurement.

A tattoo is body art.


Susan: I have 11 now, mainly on my arms & I don’t regret any of them & got my first one about 18 years ago. They all have meaning, only my 1st was ‘out of a book’. Some are song lyrics, 1 is in memory of my Grandad, I have a semicolon to remind me my story isn’t over, another to celebrate 25 years of marriage & others because I like them. I see them as works of art & am looking forward to booking my next one!


People hide behind their tattoos.

People express themselves through their tattoos.

Tattoos damage the body God has given me.

Tattoos enhance the body God has given me.

Tattoos are a waste of money.

Tattoos are priceless.

I worry that I would regret it over time.

I love that it will always remind me of a particular time.


Debbie: Always thought they look really nice on other people but wouldn’t ever have one myself….That was until our first Grandson was stillborn and lots of our family members decided to have a tattoo in his memory. I have his name and a star on my left wrist and I love it but I’d never have another. It will be my one and only.x


People have tattoos because it’s the trendy thing to do.

I have tattoos to express my individuality.

I’m scared I would be judged for my tattoos.

Anyone who judges me for my tattoos is not worth knowing anyway.

When I’m old, having a tattoo would look ridiculous.

When I’m old, my tattoos will remind me of a life well lived.

I hate the permanence of a tattoo.

I love the permanence of a tattoo.


Karen: I have two! A cat on my ankle that I got to celebrate being an independent adult when I turned 18, and a dragon on my back that I got to celebrate the publication of Beneath Starlight. I think the only reason I would get a tattoo is to celebrate a milestone or achievement – there’s a particular piano piece that if I master it, I’ve promised myself matching clef tattoos on my wrists. It’s a big if.


Love it or hate it, tattooing has been practised all over the world for centuries and is here to stay. Stemming from a human desire to decorate and individualise our bodies, each tattoo is as individual as the body it is tattooed onto. Each tattoo is chosen for a reason. You don’t have to like it, but seeking to understand and respect the individual’s choice is surely key. Behind every tattoo is a fabulous story waiting to be told…